All’s Fare in Love and Grammar

The most romantic grammatical error in the English language is the comma splice.  There is nothing quite so lexically coquettish as the prospect of bringing together two utterly independent clauses, from the most disparate of origins, and joining them face to face in audacious effrontery to all that grammarians hold sacred.  It brings blush to one’s cheeks just to think of how close they are–without a period, without a conjunction, without even so much as a lousy semicolon to keep them apart!  So formidable!  So bad!  An editor would be remise to overlook a scandal like that, and that’s why they have rules to prevent such things.  All parallel clauses must always dance at least an arm’s length away from each other.  These sorts of rules can be burdensome at times.  But no obstacle is insurmountable, love has a way of working things out.

The Reformation of Romance

If today you invite a stranger to discuss art over a nice cup of tea, it would come as a surprise if you went into any subject besides paintings once you had sat down together.  Go back a couple of millennia to hold that same conversation with a conservative Roman, and you’ll find that a diversion into the more practical topics of carpentry, weaving, or any other kind of trade or profession is not only natural but inevitable.  The difference between the two discussions is the tea…or rather the ‘T’.  A Roman would not have discussed A-R-T but A-R-S, and by that Latin term, he would have referred primarily not to sculpture and pottery (much less to oil on canvas) but to crafts, trades, and skills in general.  Indeed, as the root of the word suggests (ar-, to join), ars has always been about any matter in which people fit old things together in order to create new ones, and in ancient times, this would have been thought of first and foremost from a pragmatic point of view.

So what happened to the word?  Why would a stodgy, grizzled Roman like Cato the Elder have concerned himself with the joining of wood to build wagons in place of the joining of colors to please the eye?  Indeed, there can be no doubt that, had Cato been our converser, we would have begun this imagined dialogue with the driest exposition on how to build a miserly carriage and ended it with the averring of some oddly arrived at conclusion that Carthage must be utterly destroyed!  That sort of discussion would be a far cry from its modern analogue, which would inevitably take on a register much removed from the practical concerns of daily life, since modern idiom has come to assume a certain allowance that our ancestors never made for the inutile.  Aristotle would suggest that this evolution is one of progress, that it is only natural for a society, once having achieved a surplus of whatever is necessary for survival, to begin taking an interest in beauty and truth for their own sakes rather than for some ulterior end (Metaphysics 1.980 ff.).

The Jews in the wilderness and on the mountaintop said: It is meet to be here. Let us build an altar to Jehovah. The Roman […] brought to every new shore on which he set his foot […] only his cloacal obsession. He gazed about him in his toga and he said: It is meet to be here. Let us construct a watercloset.

—Joyce, Ulysses

We can detect such a progression in the development not only of language but also of ‘myth’, as it were.  I refer to myth as a convention of semiology, however remote the concept might seem from the Postmodern world.  If we put yet another question to that contemporary stranger of ours and ask him what are the foundational myths of our society, he might tell us that the commonest myth he knows of is that a toilet flush will change direction depending on what hemisphere it’s in, when in fact this is not true.  Of course, our philological minds would have hoped for a rather different kind of answer—and in ancient Greece or Rome, those hopes would not have been disappointed.  At least to our assuagement is the knowledge that modern literature may play an analogous role to this dated concept of myth and may show equally well the lexical shift.  Indeed, the very fact that myth has been replaced by literature intimates the progression from practical to impractical.  In place of a craft that is necessary to society, the modern world has an unessential art that is taken up at leisure.

So let us briefly skim through this apparatus, this artistic compendium of myth or literature or whatever you’d like to call it.  We begin with the Greeks and Romans,  whose interest in ars and τέχνη centered around the crafty joining of things for needful purposes.  The joining of materials to create goods and the joining of persons to create persons.  Indeed, the latter kind of joining is spoken of openly in Greco-Roman myth, especially in the form of comedy.  We need look no farther than the character of Circe, a seductive temptress, or of Lysistrata, a masochistic wife, or of Dido, a desperate bedmate—no farther than these to realize that human copulation, in ancient Greece and Rome, was a needful craft, and it was assumed by the society that one could no more abstain from that kind of joining than from the necessary building of miserly carriages.  This was the character of pagan myth, and it wasn’t until Christianity came to the forefront of Western culture that our inveterate myths about love began to revise dramatically.

It follows that Medieval literature regards the art of procreation as a kind of sacred taboo.  Explicit references are replaced by innuendoes, and with the expurgation of so many long-winded discussions of the bedroom, space is made for a whole new kind of discussion: a version of romance that concerns the spirit rather than the body.  Hence, poets of the dolce stil novo are at leisure to praise the spiritual virtues of the beloved rather than being bounded by the “inescapable” drives elicited by the body.  There is now an Art of Courtly Love, rather than a craft.  The basic assumptions about romance have transformed entirely.  Pretty soon it will seem aberrational to suggest that Sex is the tyrannical despot of the human will, and of course, the moment that such a suggestion becomes so anomalous as to shock and appall will be the very same moment that it is opined most forcefully.

But setting aside this apprehension at present, we continue with the Renaissance artists of literature.  Here we still find plenty of vulgar innuendoes, in Shakespearean comedy for example, but nothing more explicit.  In Shakespeare and Spenser there is now a more refined interest in virtue, which has developed out of Medieval philosophy.  Medieval thinkers were the sort of folks that would run around organizing and categorizing every little thing they possibly could.  They would have liked nothing better than to fully index the human soul, and the assumption of this assiduously compiled index is what allowed a poet like Spenser to allude to “The Twelve Virtues”, with everybody pretty much knowing what he meant (thank you Thomas Aquinas).

Moreover, so rational an assumption about human nature—the assumption that it is systematic and organized—is an underlying myth in the Age of Reason as well.  Kantian morality and the concept of Natural Rights would have never been possible had we still been living under the anarchical rule of Sex.  Our understanding of Nature had by now been entirely reformed.  Mother Earth, the reckless, dictatorial, juggernaut, whom primitive man would propitiate for a favorable harvest, had been supplanted by an enlightened Nature, a civil, rational  ideal.

This rational outlook on love and life in general continues to dominate society into the Romantic era.  Of course, our mythology becomes more mystical, and there is now a prevalent belief in the irresistible power of passion, but the latter is always held in tension with an optimistic confidence in man’s aptitude to comport himself with diffidence and decorum even when he is under duress.  By now, Sex has fully abdicated her throne in favor of a Philosopher King, who we might call Reason, Truth, or at least Beauty.  The former tyrant is cloaked deeply in an abstruse garment of circumlocution, and in her place this transcendental other is believed to rule more democratically over nature.

Lest anyone should scoff at this crude generalization, let me be clear that I am referring not to a hard and fast rule about literature, but to a basic assumption inherent in language.  This is where the analogy between myth and literature breaks down.  By myth, I mean the assumptions built into language forming the ideological backbone of society.  These assumptions may be predominate in the literature of the culture, but of course, any person or author is equally at liberty to contradict the presuppositions of an audience for rhetorical effect.  If one should bring up Marquis de Sade as a counter example to the general outlook that I have described, then I respond that the foundational writings of sadism held rhetorical force precisely because they contradicted the foundational myths of society at large.  And so too with the foundational writings of Freudianism.  This is the apprehension that I alluded to earlier.  It is one of the frailties of human nature that, if left to her own devices, she will deconstruct immediately, contradicting whatever is most fundamental to her existence.  If there exists a society—as I argue there does—which has progressed from the tyrannical rule of Biology toward the democratic sovereignty of Beauty, then left to itself, that society will do everything in its power to oppose its own existence as such.  What I mean is that unless we had all been more careful, the onset of the Freudian age was inevitable simply because it wasn’t yet actual.

So what’s it to us if society is reverting to an older form of itself?  I might answer this question by turning once more to the authoritative wisdom of Aristotle—provided that my dear, Postmodern readers will find it in their hearts to forgive me for being so ingenuously classical.  I maintain that the reformation of romance I have described is properly considered progress.  Progress brought about by the onset of Christianity.  Progress bringing about the onset of freedom.  I could hardly imagine a sadder fate for the societies of the Western world than to surrender their own dearly established cultural democracy and allow this neologism of “art” to fall once more into obscurity before it has even fully flourished.  I fear it may be by this impending lexical shift, by which we hope to obliterate the last encumbrance of freedom, that we will instead do away with freedom all together.

In short, I believe that the cultures of the Western world stand at an exciting point in their history.  When the stakes are as high as I have described and we have so much to lose, we have equally as much to gain.  Our modern mythology is more conscious than it has been for several millennia of the greatest Adversary of human reason.  In this way, man’s desperate need for divine grace has never been more blatantly obvious, and our potential to recognize and respond contritely to that need may be enough to elevate art, love, and life generally to a quality which it has never before achieved.  Not a quality of earthly happiness and prosperity, but of austerity and supernatural joy.  We stand then both individually and collectively at a parting of ways.  As human fallibility confronts us head on in this uncertain age, this age in which the integrity of reason itself has been called into question, we may either respond with blissful denial and a naive faith in Human Potential, or we may surrender every last surety and confidence that we held in our own ingenuity to be utterly reformed by the hand of God.

Love Sonnet

She is a masterpiece as excellent

As the cracks in the Mona Lisa.

A work of art as almost beautiful

As the mold on a squirmy armadillo.

Can I compare her to a jubilant hairy lobster?

Or is she equalled by the immaculate weeping watermelons?

She is more lovely than the shattered shards

Of exquisite Grecian pottery,

And more realistic than a crocodile

Who swims all day in tart and tasty lipstick.

The missing pieces

Of the mansion Parthenon,

The breathtaking breaks

In a Yellowstone precipice,

The brown part

Of a rotten bow tie.

She is more to me than all of these,

And now I have a kangaroo nose of my own.

I think that I must be in love,

But it could be indigestion—

Only Lee or a bad burrito

Could make me feel this way.

She smells much better than a bad burrito.

She doesn’t fit at all inside the rigid barbed wire,

But she is a misshaped gratuitous extraneous rupture

In a canvass that forever disrupts the regular flow of purple tea.

So what is the best type of story to tell a toddler with pointy teeth?

Wisdom

That which befalls a nose,

By Benny, brother James,

Would be called a kangaroo.

You’ll understand when you’re older—

The panda bear doesn’t really know

How to chew bamboo.

But for now, you should know

To never accept a loan from a shark,

Somehow lucid advice,

To never reject a respectable lethargic-caterpillar enchilada,

That’s a little bit better, but the best suggestion of all

Is to never ever never fall in love.

Eventually, brother James, Mom and Dad

Will actually explain the extra insects and the birds to you,

But take my word that love is like a loopy fruit loop.

When I hold his hand

I am a towering pizza mountain of insomnia

That runs over the resplendent ocean

In brilliant bays of fiery luminescence.

I have a thousand evanescent peanut butter flies

Shooting out of all my incandescent beaming eyes,

And my golden finger nails are as shiny as the outer space.

Do all dogs really know how to play the virtuosic ukulele?

I noticed the man without a friendly fellow go by in his rowboat,

And I don’t care any more about my crocodile.

I’m sorry, brother James—

I can’t explain it.

READ THE PREVIOUS POEM IN

“THE MAN WITH THE YELLOW BOW TIE”

How to Impress Girls

Dear Ernest,

Everyone loves a good anecdote, so I thought I’d tell you one: several years ago, while at a composition workshop, I had the privilege of meeting and befriending a fellow by the name of Ben Nakamura.  Ben’s English skills were intermediate at best, but as you and I both know, this put him on par with the upper percentile of all native speakers—a brief perusal of any blog like this one can reveal as much.  Employing such and aptitude for English, he once asked me why I began writing music.  I offered him in reply a lengthy exposition on the purpose of art, the human propensity for creativity, and other such kinds of pretentious philosophical ramblings.  When I had sufficiently despoiled from his mind any presumption of eloquence or compendiousness that he might have held for me in light of my life-long familiarity with our mother tongue, I stopped blabbering and returned to him with the same question.  His response was much simpler: “I started writing music,” he said, “to impress a girl.”  Then he laughed at himself before adding, “it’s okay though.  It turns out I like doing it anyway.”

In your last letter: “I fear you despise your own tongue at times”

In answer to your accusation, I must submit entirely.  I can hardly stand my accursed tongue!  It’s always sloshing around like an unwelcome guest, the umbrage of my mouth, all wet and gross, and always arguing with me.  I don’t care how amusing a scene it makes for passersby—my debates with my tongue are utterly infuriating!  Just the other day we were arguing about Dante.  My loquacious antagonist was of the opinion that the Divine Comedy can be read and appreciated much more deeply under the assumption that Beatrice was not a real person.  I opposed him directly.  If Beatrice were not an actual woman, it would mean that Dante has neglected to provided us with any real-world advice on how to impress girls.  Naturally, I would find this all rather disappointing, since arguing about Dante with my tongue already puts me at a disadvantage in that category.  In defence of my viewpoint, allow me to extrapolate evidence from one of his sonnets, quoting in a language that’s much more dear me by heart than native to me by birth:

“or voi di sua virtù farvi savere.  / Dico, qual vuol gentil donna parere / vada con lei, che quando va per via, / gitta nei cor villani Amore un gelo, / per che onne lor pensero agghiaccia e pere; / e qual soffrisse di starla a vedere / diverria nobil cosa o si morria.”

trans: Now let me make her [Beatrice’s] virtue known. I say that it behoves whoever longs to seem a gentle lady to walk with her, for when she passes by, Love casts a chill into the hearts of the villainous, so that their every thought freezes and perishes.  Whoever might endure standing beside and beholding her—he would either become something noble or die.

(Vita Nuova XIX)

As this sonnet implies, the main point that Dante will try to make in the Divine Comedy is simply this: the best way to impress a girl is not to compose music for her but to write immortal Italian love poetry.  All throughout the epic, the same question recurs.  Dante asks his readers and himself, ‘how does one become worthy?’  Worthy, that is, of so virtuous a lady as Beatrice, of so lofty a poetic theme as the salvation of the human soul, and of so glorious a kingdom as that unending realm of Him who is from Everlasting to Everlasting.  The solution is always immortal Italian love poetry.  Live a life, Dante tells us, that is a love poem addressed to no less a muse than the very God whose name is Love.  Come as you are, base and villainous, and He will cast a chill into your heart so that your every vile thought vanishes into oblivion.  Perhaps this will begin somewhere quite superficial—perhaps you’ll begin ‘pursuing God’ only to impress others with your conspicuous virtues or specious magnanimity, both of which are among the many practical benefits of being a nominal Christian.  But by the time you find yourself ‘midway through the journey of our life’, you just might realise that God has been using all those trivialities to cultivate his own radical vision for you.  He has been pursuing you through all the stupid fancies, all the vanities and futilities that first inspired you to turn toward Him, and now, as the impetus and completion of everything that you are becoming, He has overwhelmed you with His grace and bereaved you of every source of pride, even the pride you might take in your own morality and righteousness.  When He has done all this, you may very well arrive at a solidarity with my friend Ben Nakamura: “it’s okay,” you’ll conclude, “it turns out I like doing this anyway.”

Your servant,

TWM

P.S.  Everything I told you about Ben is true…except his name.  He didn’t really go around using a pseudonym as far as I know.

Is Love Irrational?

More specifically, could love be radical without being irrational?

Ever since the mystical romanticism of nineteenth century western culture, it has become fashionable to regard love as an irrational human sentiment.  People seem to like this notion because it gives love a special place in philosophy: love is not the sort of thing you can write a long philosophical treatise on (or can you?), but instead it is a subject for great poems and works of art.  Of course, this understanding completely disregards any art that may be inherent in the genera of boring treatise writing, which is entirely surpassed, it is supposed, by the capacity of an ardent poet.  Indeed, this superior position seems to be where such a notion of love is placed; it is not merely irrational but super-rational, transcending and exceeding the limits of the human intellect into some supposedly higher, metaphysical realm of unintelligible emotion.

Some readers might think this notion is less novel than I have made it out to be, and perhaps a brief look at gothic love poetry—by which the romantics were allegedly inspired—would reveal so much.  But let me respond to all such objectors with the position that the culmination of that poetic school is actually the dolce stil nuovo—a highly rational understanding of love.  Indeed, there is very little mystical about medieval mysticism.  But enough arguing with my imaginary antagonists; let’s look at an early renaissance passage.  This comes from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, wherein Eve has just eaten the forbidden fruit and Adam is now throwing a mild hissy-fit over the matter:

“Should God create another Eve, and I

Another Rib afford, yet loss of thee

Would never from my heart; no, no, I feel

The Link of Nature draw me: Flesh of Flesh,

Bone of my Bone thou art, and from thy State

Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe.”

(Milton, Paradise Lost IX.911-6)

The last two lines might seem irrational.  Why would Adam ever pursue a state of woe?  That doesn’t make any rational sense; hence, Adam’s love must be irrational.  But such a reading completely overlooks Adam’s own rationale, which he provides quite clearly: ‘I feel the Link of Nature draw me’.  Milton is referring to the classical metaphor for marriage as a chain (people have been complaining about ‘the old ball and chain’ since antiquity).  So entering into a state of woe is something that Adam would do by compulsion, and thus, he violates no rational principles.  But Adam’s first premise is the most puzzling part of his logical argument: ‘Should God create another Eve … loss of thee / Would never from my heart’.  What does that mean?  If God could make another version of the same thing that Adam holds dear, why on earth would Adam pursue the broken one rather than being satisfied with a replacement?

We could easily imagine this question posed in much a more personal way.  Suppose after thirty-five years of marriage, when the children are fully grown and left the cave, Eve turns to Adam in a moment of personal dissatisfaction and asks him that enduring question which has baffled the mind of every lover since the dawn of mankind: ‘why did you choose me?’  Adam would hardly have found himself in a tighter spot if she had instead asked, ‘does this sheep skin make me look fat?’  But he has an easy way out, a simple, rational answer that has been available to no man since: ‘I frankly had no other options.’   However, much to our amazement and stupefaction, Adam utterly refuses this obvious answer and favours a romantic and seemingly mystical one.  He goes out of his way to create a hypothetical situation in which there are other Eves and then still decides to stick with his particular wife.  Why?

Commitment and Passio

Dear Ernest,

THE WORD PASSION comes from the late Latin theological term passio, which itself comes from the Classical Latin verb, pati, meaning ‘to suffer, undergo, or be acted upon’.  In theology, the term refers to something that English speakers might call ‘an emotion’ or ‘an affect’, that is, something that passively influences, but does not constitute, the wilful action of the soul.  So, for the thinkers of old, passion, far from being a quality of the soul, is rather something that occurs to it, some only partially voluntary process of gain and loss that may alter who a person is.

In your last letter: “At what point can we be certain – and with what consistency need this certainty last before being comfortable to make a calculated decision to continue to act in a prescribed manner?”

It would seem that commitment, generally speaking, is something that ought to be undertaken only by an agent per se, ‘of himself’, and not per accidens, ‘of a befalling, or by contingency’.  In other words, vows ought to be performed out of necessity, not pleasure.  While undergoing a passio may involve many acts by which an agent becomes more of one thing and less of something else, commitment is the ultimate product of those changes and is not itself a part of them.  Hence, Thaddeus ought only betroth himself to his “Choco-Peanut Butter Spheres” if, after however much alteration, he does in fact identify as a cereal lover, but he mustn’t do it simply because he loves cereal.

Your servant,

TWM

The Serial Lover

Dear Ernest,

As I read your letter, I fell, almost involuntarily, into a state of thorough introspection, a consideration of my own habits wherein I examined the ramifications of my efficiency, as you described it, and of each particular mannerism that I possess.  I shortly realised that these subconscious habits you mentioned, these mindless expressions of virtues and of vices, could take place in even least conspicuous expressions of morality—in mere thought—and insofar as they were notions arising at random, could provide, escaping all notice and control, some of the most troublesome and unknowable sources of intellectual sin.  Upon realising this, I began examining my thoughts, searching them for whatever may be of ill report, and finding, much to my dismay, that as I so examined, my thoughts contained nothing more than a contemplation of my thoughts themselves, which left me confused and frustrated by the vain attempt.  Needless to say, I soon directed my attention to a cogitation of recursive systems and fractals.

And indeed, this seems to me to be the fundamental shortcoming of the Freudian age.  Psychology is prefaced, unlike all other sciences, by a philosophy of introspection, not of nature.  Here man does not observe the natural universe outside of himself, using the scientific method from the age of reason, but rather, he observes himself and the inner-selfs of those around him, taking his means instead from the romantic and mystical age that followed.  But the romantics, in all their zeal for formless intuition, and in all their commendable appreciation of the complexity of natural phenomena, appear nonetheless to have overlooked an essential issue that, in a simpler fashion, any adherent of formal reasoning and academic proceedings could have never failed to notice: namely, that the scientist always perceives in the third person only, and that a mirror is not the self, but a false image or resemblance.  Consciousness is, like the speed of light, a cosmic limit, always trailing off in front of an observer at the same rate.  Indeed, the moment man considers his own thoughts, he is no longer thinking them.

In your last letter: “[Love] is not a set of scripts we can write to program ourselves to imitate Christ – it is a continuous choice, an expression of our thoughtful, creative self in ways that show love to others and to God.”

In any case, it remains a question for the ages whether Hamlet loves Ophelia when he says ‘get thee to a nunnery’.  Perhaps the to be or not to be speech is really a demonstration not of suicidal gothicism nor of manic depression, but of prudent foresight and planning for a certain fate; for who could ever imagine such treachery as Hamlet’s dread command going unpunished, even with death itself?  How could he ever hope for a better future than ‘that sleep of death’, his only ‘consummation’—perhaps with some dark but revealing allusion to la petite mort?  If this is so, then there is no more passionate expression of love devised in all of English poetry than the scene that follows.  But it is a very strange kind of love.  One not of intimacy and affection, nor of any warm sentiment that would betray the serial-killer illusion under which our Hamlet is so often typified, but it is a love that exists in thoughts, a love that operates, much like the programming of a computer, by systematic planning and calculated proceeding.  This is the kind of love that submits, in the most dire of circumstances, even to surrendering its very object for the sake of her own good.

 

Your servant,

TWM

For the Love of God

Dear Ernest,

As, in my shameless, Victorian manner, I bemoaned and bewailed your long absence from our dialogue, in my lowest state of bereavement, when all hope had very nearly drained out from my lifeless heart, I began to imagine, though the very thought seemed to harrow me with an insurmountable consternation and perturbation, what would inevitably become of our nearly forgotten deliberation if, little by little, in small degrees, our letters became less and less frequent, less thoughtful, and altogether less interesting.  I quickly realised, as I evaluated this nightmarish fantasy of mine, that the whole situation would, without a doubt, be your fault entirely.  This was only a matter of elementary reasoning, for after all, you were the one who, in my imagining, stooped to writing a letter about the proper cultivation techniques for growing eggplants, and to so dully penned an expository, I could hardly be blamed for responding with a comment, however lengthy or tedious, on the economic and culinary benefits of owning a refrigerator.  I need hardly mention your spiritless droning on over the superiority of the colour blue to all others, and my response, a mere ‘sup’, was simply the best answer that I, or even the most masterful and creative intellectual, could ever muster.  In short, the gradual decline of standards, and the incremental deterioration in quality, while perhaps expressing itself in my letters just as much as in yours, was solely and unmistakably the fault of your own failure to provide interesting content, which, while bad enough in itself, also accounted in full for my own demise into an unending literary lifelessness.

In your last letter, when quoting a very clever gentleman: ““How can an earthly purpose point to a heavenly one?””

Anyway, now that so much is cleared up, I’d like to discuss something else: the love of God.  I recently had a conversation with someone about the theological doctrine of Penal Substitution (Jesus dying from the sins of man).  In an attempt to point out how ridiculous the whole idea is, my philosophical friend said something along these lines: “If John Somebody steals a cup of tea from Don Quixote, and for that offence, you sentence Sancho Panza to thirty years in prison, then you’re not upholding justice and mercy at the same time, you’re just being a jerk to Sancho Panza”.  In retrospect, I realise that the best response would have been to point out that everyone is a jerk to Panza, even Don Quixote.  But since this is an intellectual blog, and at that, one of certain standards, I’ll offer a more thoughtful response:

The problem with this quixotic situation is simply the choice of third-person narrative.  Penal Substitution is a doctrine based on the circular reciprocity of requited love.  By this I mean that if, for example, Romeo loves Juliet, then one of his greatest objectives in life is to keep her happy and healthy.  However, if Juliet requites Romeo’s love, then a large part of serving her means, for Romeo, taking care also of himself.  In this way, love is a lot like writing letters back and forth: the better one letter, the better its response, and if Romeo is well off, then Juliet will be also, which is the lover’s greatest concern.  By loving Juliet, Romeo has not taken away resources from himself—though it may seem like this at first—but rather, he has increased the over all purposes that he and Juliet collectively possess for staying alive.  Obviously, Shakespeare is a bad example, seeing that Romeo and Juliet were never actually in love, but it serves our philosophical purposes just fine.

Between God and man, there is a very similar drama, only man is not well off, and therefore, God will suffer.  And He does.  Penal Substitution doesn’t mean choosing a third-party at random to suffer for the crimes of another; rather, it means that, when man has turned from God, such that either he or God must pay, Jesus chooses Himself.  After all, in the third-person, it doesn’t make much sense that one man should need to die in order that another might live, but the situation does in fact arise, and the Christian answer to the conflict is different for each narrative.  In the first-person, the crucifixion illustrates that the proper answer is, ‘I die’, and in the second person, the resurrection tells us to answer, ‘you live’.  But if, as humans, we respond gratefully to both of these divine answers, saying back to Jesus, ‘I am dead in my sins’ (Ephesians 2:1), come, ‘you live’ inside of me, then the third-person narrative will have no mention of death at all: ‘He lives’.

I propose that pointing earthly purposes to heavenly one’s is all a matter of Imitation Christis.  If on Earth, we can experience this drama in the first person, not just reading about it in books and obscure theological doctrines, but actually knowing Jesus in the second-person—as a You, not a Him—then having been so deeply loved, we will find it difficult to respond in any other way toward others.  We are the recipients of an incredible letter, to which, if we offer any reply at all, everything we write thereafter will bear a resemblance, and gradually, by small degrees, our Earthly story will be transformed into something very near a Heavenly one; we will understand other characters in the text more thoroughly and love the more fully than ever before—and indeed, this entire literary revolution, the demise of the old and rise of the new, will be entirely and unmistakably His fault.

 

Your Servant,

TWM

Wandering out of Paradise

Dear Ernest,

When I consider how often I have, in light of careful observation, esteemed with high regard the astucity of your character, I then hold little doubt that you have noted, with equal wonder as have I, the astounding level of passivity with which many people appear to wander through the world, conducting their lives, it seems, as one heedlessly roams the streets of a darkened city, tending neither toward any purpose nor sense of destination.  Such people, we can only assume, are by no means exempted from the existential worries and struggles of an active mind, nor from any like burden, I imagine, that we ordinarily associate with an intellectual life style, for these supposed symptoms of the philosopher are really nothing more or less than the universal agonies of the human condition, and we find them inescapable in all modes of living, regardless of whether they are illuminated by the words of a scholar.  Contrary to what the new agers and postmodernists would have us believe, it seems that human nature is quite the same in any and all realms: the moment we engage with people, we find ourselves at war with them in some manner or another, but if we then retire to the secret worlds of our own minds, we will be equally at war with ourselves—move society from the physical plane of existence to a mode of being on the internet and shortly you will have the same defects pulsing through cyberspace as formerly infected the oceans and seven continents.  In short, there is no diversion from adversity, no respite from the enduring pains of human life, and no clever way out of the many problems and questions that are imposed on us from the moment we are born; all people are at all times and in all manners subject to the concerns that naturally come with being human.

In your last letter: “How are we to know about matters of ultimate faith?”

Commonly, faith is thought of as a kind of alternative to reason, a net to break the fall of a weary philosopher, or a blanket to gently conceal a difficult question from view, and by virtue of this cure for the disease known as philosophy, one is suddenly freed to rove the dark roads of this world without a care for reason or thought.  But such purposeless wandering seems to me neither desirable nor even feasible, for it is impossible to escape from the prospect of destination—as even wanderers end up somewhere else than they begin—and there must also exist a reason why any given destination is achieved.  So mustn’t faith be something more than this?  We seem to often lose the rich meaning of the original Greek whenever we talk of merely ‘believing’ in Jesus; the real issue is a matter of πιστεύειν, ‘trusting’ or ‘relying on’ him, which has less to do with determining that he should be trusted and more to do with the act of trusting itself.

Adam, the lover who follows his mate out of paradise, and Thaddeus, the fool who follows his mates off a cliff, have one thing in common: they are both forced to choose between two limited alternatives, to either satisfy their desire to live or else appease their fear of living without their mates, but they are no longer afforded the option of both.  When we meet Adam wandering out of paradise in the ninth book of Milton’s poem, we are confronted by a man who has already made a sacred covenant never to abandon his bride, so the moment Eve turns from him and from God, there is no longer such a thing as paradise; if Adam remains, he breaks his covenant and looses his integrity, but if he leaves, we already know what happens.  So considered, the decision is philosophically arbitrary—there is no intellectual reason that one kind of death should be preferred to another.  Adam is not deciding, at this point, where to place his faith, for he has already chosen, and wisely so, to entrust it in whole to a creature of perfection—Eve as she once was, but now this perfect being no longer exists, and the decision remains for him not as a question of what to trust, but whether he ought to trust at all.  He chooses πιστεύειν.  And this he does not as way out of relying on his own intellect, but even as the very exercise of that faculty.  Wandering out of paradise, very much like falling off a cliff, is something that people do reluctantly; no one marches forth from the garden of Eden with any show of confidence, nor do we often see people leaping from the tops of towering crags with great command—these are duties performed with a dragging of the heals or a covering of the eyes, not in the least with great zeal or assurance, but there is much reward for whoever is true to a good purpose, even if this means giving up everything or dying on a cross.

Whoever has found his life shall lose it, but he that has lost his life for Christ’s sake shall gain it.

 

Your servant,

TWM